And Back Again
Bilbo had many hardships and adventures before he got
back. The Wild was still the Wild, and there were many other
things in it in those days besides goblins; but he was well
guarded—the wizard was with him, and Beorn for much of the
way—and he was never in great danger again."
— The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Chapter XVIII: The Return Journey
Well, except for this one time…
Part I: I'm Not in Kansas Anymore
'Oh…that's not good,' thought Faith, as the vortex started to grow around where she had stabbed her sword into the demon with the unpronounceable name. An electric shock travelled up the blade, making her hands clench tighter around the hilt; she couldn't let go of it, even if she wanted to. She tried to pull her sword free, but she didn't have enough traction on the slime and slush covered ground. She felt herself being pulled inexorably toward the swirling light. It expanded, and engulfed her. She was surrounded by light and howling wind. Bolts of lighting flashed around her, causing her body to jerk and convulse. And then she was falling. She barely had time to twist herself around and get her feet under her before she hit the ground. She tried roll with the impact, to avoid breaking any bones, and she mostly succeeded. The half foot or so of wet snow on the ground helped as well.
Faith winced a bit from a pain in her ankle as she climbed slowly to her feet, brushing snow off her jacket and pants, and out of her hair. She'd experienced enough Boston winters to know that the stuff got a lot colder if you let it melt on you, and get your clothes all wet. She looked around, to try to get her bearings.
"I don't think I'm in Kansas anymore, Toto," she said to herself…not that she'd been in Kansas to begin with. She had been hunting the unpronounceable demon through an industrial district in Cleveland. Now there was no sign of any industry in any direction she looked.
She was standing on top of a low hill. In one direction the land rose in waves of higher and higher hills, with snow covered mountains in the distance. In the other was an expanse of plain, stretching for a few miles until it ended at the edge of a forest, whose trees seemed to be bare of leaves. The sky was overcast grey; she couldn't see any sign of the sun. Her watch said that it was three AM, but that clearly wasn't the time here, wherever here was. She had no idea if it was morning, or afternoon.
There wasn't any sign of human habitation, no matter what direction she looked. No telephone poles, no fences, no wisps of smoke, no distant sound of traffic on a highway. The only sound she could hear was the wind, blowing around her.
"Well, I can't stay here." She was too exposed on this hilltop. Her leather motorcycle jacket gave her good protection from the wind, but it was still chilly. She sheathed her sword, and started off down the hill toward the forest, limping a bit from the ankle that she'd twisted when she landed. The forest would give her some protection from the wind, and she could find wood there to make herself a fire. She checked her pockets to make sure that she still had her lighter. "Ha! Take that!" she said to all the people who had complained about her smoking, and told her that cigarettes would kill her one day. She fished her pack out of another pocket. It had been crushed when she landed, but it still had a dozen smokes in it. She pulled one out, and lit up.
She took an inventory of her other pockets while she walked. Her cell phone had survived the fall intact, but it wasn't receiving any signal. She had a Power Bar that she'd brought along for a late night snack, that she decided to save until later; a wallet with about $75 in cash, credit cards, driver's licence, and other useless things for the situation in which she had found herself; about another dollar's worth of loose change in her pocket along with her keys. The small penlight on the key ring might come in handy.
For weapons she had her sword, a couple of stakes, and a knife. She was really sorry that she had decided to leave her crossbow behind. It would have been useful if she had to hunt for food. So far she hadn't seen any sign of anything huntable, other than black specks that probably were birds, flying over the forest.
The forest was farther away than it had looked from the top of the hill, and it wasn't easy to wade through the snow. It had gotten deeper when she had reached lower ground. She had been walking for an hour and the trees didn't look a whole lot closer. And then she came to the stream. The water looked black, and cold. It was too wide for her to jump across here, and she didn't want to try wading through the icy water. She started to follow it, going with the flow, figuring that if she was going to find anyone, they'd be near the water.
It took her half an hour to find a place she could cross without getting her pants soaked. A couple of rocks in the stream gave her stepping stones that she could jump between to get across. The stream had wound its way closer to the forest here: it was only a hundred yards to the nearest trees. Faith decided that it was time to start to look for a place where she could camp for the night. She still hadn't caught sight of the sun, but there was a change in the light that told her that darkness was approaching. The daylight was definitely starting to fade by the time she had found a place where she could make a shelter.
She was glad she had her sword with her. It wasn't the best tool for the job, but it was better than nothing. She used it to hack up the branches of a fallen tree to get wood for a fire, and to make the frame for a lean-to. She stripped the boughs from a cedar tree to cover her lean-to, and make a bed.
Faith had been cold and hungry before, but that was the worst night that she could remember. She lay huddled on her bed, catching little more than brief naps. She had to get up often to stoke her fire, to keep it from going out.
The clouds cleared away near midnight, and the stars came into view. Faith wasn't that familiar with the constellations, but it seemed that she'd spent half her life outside at night, so she knew the major ones. Being able to find the Big Dipper and the North Star sometimes came in handy for getting her bearings at night. She moved away from her campsite, back out onto the plain so she could have a better look.
She had never seen so many stars in all her life. It was a moonless night, but the sky was full of light. She had seen the night sky from the desert and mountains before, but she had never seen anything like this. She tried to find the familiar constellations, but there was nothing. No Big or Little Dippers, no Orion, no Cassiopeia.
There was also no sign of light from distant cities. No matter how remote a place had seemed to her when she was out at night, she had usually been able to see some sort of glow on the horizon in one direction or another. Here there was nothing. Nothing in the sky gave her any clue about what direction she should travel if she hoped to find civilization. She was beginning to doubt if there was any civilization to be found, in whatever this place was.
It was six PM, by her watch, when the sky began to brighten. It had started to get dark about twelve hours earlier, so she figured that wherever she was, was about half a day out of synch with home. She supposed that she could be somewhere in Siberia, but she doubted it. Siberia would have the same stars as the ones she was used to seeing. She knew that different stars were visible in the night sky in the southern hemisphere, so maybe she was in Australia, but shouldn't it be summer there?
The rising sun told her which way was east. That put the mountains to the north of her, and the forest to the south. She had been moving westward while she was following the stream.
Dawn was greeted by the chittering of a squirrel in a tree. The little animal hadn't counted on how accurately, or how hard, a hungry Slayer could throw a rock. She knocked it off its branch, and reached the stunned animal on the ground before it could recover. A quick twist of its neck finished the job of killing it.
She used her knife to skin and gut the animal, and she impaled its carcass on a stick to roast over her fire. It wasn't the most appetizing of breakfasts, but by now she was getting too hungry to be fussy. She also didn't care what anyone said, squirrel did not taste like chicken.
Her breakfast of squirrel also made her thirsty. She knew not to try eating snow: she was hovering close enough to hypothermia as it was. She went back to the stream, to drink from it. It was still icy-cold, but she didn't have to waste her body heat melting it first.
She didn't think that there was any point to staying where she was. There was nothing about the shelter that she had made for herself that she couldn't reproduce in an hour or two, and it didn't seem likely that anyone was going to find her here. It was best to get moving: maybe she'd be able to find someone living in this wilderness.
She took the time to carve herself a staff, to take some of the weight off her aching ankle. It had stiffened up overnight, but she expected it would loosen up, once she got moving. She doused her fire with snow, and set out.